This is the first of my Advent blogs on the “Jesse Tree,” which will run every day in December. If you would like a reminder of what the “Jesse Tree” is all about, you can review the Introduction I posted in early November.
CHILDREN’S VERSIONIf you would like to do this with smaller children, a version suitable for them can be had HERE.
Scripture: Gen 1:26–31
What Is “Image and Likeness”?
God created humanity in his own image and likeness. Speculative proposals for what “image and likeness” denotes multiply:
- Maybe it’s that we have a spirit (Heb. ruach) or a soul (nepesh); however, animals are also said to have both nephesh (Gen 1:20, 24, 30) and ruach (Gen 6:17; 7:15).1 Depending upon the context, ruach means everything from “spirit” or “Spirit” to “wind” or “breath.” And nephesh refers to the “soul,” the “self,” a “life,” a “being/creature,” or even the “throat.”2
- Some suggest that it’s the degree of human intelligence that constitutes the image—so much smarter than a poodle, pig, or chimpanzee—however, that explanation seems a recipe for humanitarian disasters of a Nazi-like order if it means failing to identify the fetus, infant, or mentally handicapped as fully human.
- Some suggest that man’s use of tools constitutes the divine image in humanity; however, we now see that chimpanzees and even some sea creatures fashion and use what can fairly be called “tools.” And since I’m not adept with tools myself, I’m not sure I like this explanation at all!
- Others suggest the human desire and ability to create constitutes the image. If so, it’s a strange twist that this is the very aspect of human existence that’s turned so readily against God in the crafting of images to be used for idols!
- Others suggest that the desire for fellowship with God constitutes the image and likeness; however; however, it’s more likely that this is not what constitutes image and likeness, but that it’s a result of our bearing the divine image.
All these suggestions ignore the fact that the creation account itself gives us the answer to the question. It defines image-bearing in the functional terms of divine appointment: “They will reign” over all creation as God’s representatives to “govern it” (Gen 1:26–28). Being God’s image and likeness has to do with being God’s royal representatives ruling over his earth on his behalf.
God also gave humanity a mandate to fill the earth. That involved more than just expanding the human population but also extending paradise, so that the whole of the earth would be a paradise-like realm for God’s presence among his people and rule over his creation.
Sadly, the Genesis account quickly turns from pristine creation to sinful ruin and shame. But then just as quickly, God’s note of gracious hope returns. Right after God’s judgment on Adam and Eve, condemning them to death for sin, we read a human note of hope: “Then the man (Adam) named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all who live” (Gen 3:20). And the very next verse we see a divine note of grace: “And the LORD God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife” (Gen 3:21). The line of God’s image and likeness would continue after all—and with divine protection and provision.
Lest we think that humanity no longer bore God’s image and likeness after the judgment for sin, the next great judgment (the flood) is also followed by a note of divine commitment to man serving as the divine image and likeness: “If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image” (Gen 9:6). This condemns violence against the very image of God. But it also reaffirms the authority of human beings to rule—even in capital cases.
Adam and Eve were created as prototypes of divine rule through human representatives. Later this nascent royal pattern came to a degree of fulfillment in David and his dynasty. Of course, all of this could only be a limited version of what will happen through the one who is “the visible image of the invisible God,” not as God’s creation, but as the one who “existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation” (Col 1:15).
“The Scriptures tell us, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living person.’ But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit” (1 Cor 15:45). God called on human beings to subdue the earth (Gen 1:28); and all things will be put under Jesus’s feet (1 Cor 15:27; Eph 1:22). In Christ, as renewed image of God (Col 3:10), the saints will share in that reign (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 20:6) for which humanity was created in the first place (Heb 2:8).
Questions, Reflections, and Commitments
- How might you and your family be more faithful to the mandate to live and reign over creation as God’s “image and likeness”? Remember that ruling, subduing, and filling was not just about doing whatever you want with the world’s resources. It wasn’t even merely about expanding paradise. No, it was about extending the realm of God’s presence and power in the earth through representative rule.
- Today when you pray, “May your Kingdom come soon,” continue with the words of that prayer that constitute both an explicit request and an implied commitment: “May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). Make it a request, “O God, manifest your rule through my life.”
Ornament for the day
- Click here to download cross-stitch patterns for all the daily ornaments.
- Click here to download a simple coloring book for all the daily ornaments.